Box.net powers online storage for Dell 'netbook'

Storing things online has never been dead simple for consumers. Over the past two years, however, a bevy of new companies has emerged to solve that problem. It’s quite competitive.

Amid the noise, Box.net, a startup in Palo Alto, Calif. has found a smart way to keep growing: It’s partnering with computer maker Dell to offer storage services on Dell’s Inspiron Mini 9.

Box.net tries to make online storage useful for a normal consumer, which is probably why Dell partnered with it. As Dell’s first entry into the “netbooks” market — i.e., basic, affordable mini-laptops — the Inspiron Mini 9 has been getting plenty of positive attention, and the computer has apparently just become available. This is Box.net’s first “netbooks” deal, but it will be interesting to see if the devices play a big role in Box.net’s future strategy. After all, an underpowered computer can become a lot more useful if it leverages the Internet “cloud.”

Box.net chief executive Aaron Levie says the product will basically be an icon on the Dell desktop that takes users to a specially-branded website connecting to Box.net storage and to the online applications in the company’s Open Box platform. Those applications include Zoho‘s office suite and photo editor Picnik. There’s a free plan, although if you want more than 2 gigabytes of storage you’ll have to pay for it. Levie says the Dell service is pretty much identical to what Box.net already offers, but it may be customized later depending on users’ needs.

The company say it has almost 2 million users, but Levie says its biggest hopes for revenue lie in selling its service to businesses. The Dell deal should help Box.net’s credibility in this area.

The company has raised around $7.5 million, including $6 million earlier this year.

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